While reading the Haggadah at Passover seder this past Friday, like most Jews, I thought of the exodus of the Jewish people from ancient Egypt, the journey that despite its difficulties, would lead them to freedom.
But while listening to the rabbi speak at the seder, I also found myself thinking of another, much more recent exodus: that of the Jewish people from the former Soviet Union, in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
I thought of the countless families, including my own, that left everything they had ever known behind, in order to travel to a new country where nothing was a certainty but everything was a possibility. I thought of the jobs they had left, the possessions they had given away, and the citizenship they were giving up to start their lives anew.
There's a story that my grandmother tells me often, usually on anniversaries of the day that my family emigrated from Russia. On the flight to America, she says, she kept looking at me and thinking, You have no idea how lucky you are. You have no idea how the course of your life is being altered with every mile we fly over the ocean.
She was right—I certainly was too young to know back then. But I know now, and am aware of how lucky I am more than ever. I know I'm lucky to be in America, where being Jewish does not disqualify someone from attending a particular college or being employed by a certain company. I'm lucky to be in a country where I can say I'm Jewish and it will have no bearing on how people view me as a human being.
And I am so immensely grateful to be in a land where I can write these words freely, and that the freedom of speech is not reserved for few and restricted for many, but a right—a right that all citizens of the U.S. are granted, but just another right that citizens of the U.S.S.R. did not have.
It seems fitting that the April issue of JUF News features a collection of immigrant stories in honor of the 100th anniversary of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
So as we celebrate Passover this year, let us honor the Exodus—the journey that started it all—but not forget the other journeys that the Jewish people have taken for freedom.